Behold it, the centerpiece, the display for all eyes to marvel. It’s what attracts the eye gazers and the “ooos!” and the “ahhhs!” It’s the fish on display at the fountain, standing more magnificent than the jets of water around it, firing rapidly and eloquently of late, can compare. But you must wait to see if the exhibition becomes a foundation stone.
This past year Mike Trout had what may have been the best rookie season ever. In an age of sabermetric measurement, jealous protection of stars, and flopping prospect tryouts, Trout was everything he panned out to be. In 139 games this past season, Trout was just a few hits shy from winning the batting title, hitting .326. A .963 OPS, 315 total bases, league-leading 129 runs scored, and an insane 10.7 Wins Above Replacement. And oh yeah, he was a stolen base away from having a 30-50 season.
Make no mistake: Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. His numbers and value to a team outreach any other player on any grassy diamond – even Miguel Cabrera. Runs scored, which is the biggest contribution an offensive player can give a team, was Trout’s bottom-line. He averaged a run scored in all but 10 games in 2012. What’s even more fascinating, though, is that he isn’t a one-dimension player. Trout has everything: bat, arm, speed, defense, power. He is the definition of a five tool player, the gem of baseball scouts’ eye candies. At the tender age of 21, Trout put a spark in Major League Baseball after it received a six-month EMT treatment. And that’s why he’s the centerpiece. No other player is more valuable to a franchise right now than Mike Trout. One of the youngest players in Major League Baseball and he’s better than anyone else; that’s the recipe for many angry veterans.
But what really makes Trout more of a focal point to a franchise is that often brilliant and ugly number: 21.At such a juvenile age, he conceivably has at least another 10 years of good play for the Angels. Yes, the magic number of 10, the numeral of contract dreams, this is at least how much more prime baseball Trout will show us. Barring the unfortunate, we will get to see at least another decade of wall leaping, stolen base machine running, and smooth bat contact. It’s the perfect, rare chance. We had Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Ichiro, and more in recent years, but for how many of those guys did we get to see a decade of Mickey Mantle-like play?
Trout is the most valuable player to a baseball team if he continues to play like, well, Trout. His numbers are more conductive and energizing to an offense than any other player in baseball. He drives his offense at the leadoff spot by getting on base nearly four times out of 10, and then coming around to score most of the time. He sets up the bats in his lineup, Pujols, Trumbo, and more. He doesn’t have the protection in his lineup that Detroit Triple Crown monster has. No, Trout instead flounders around and inspires his team into motion like a true leadoff hitter – except he can hit the ball out of the ballpark as often as a number three hitter in a lineup can. If Trout keeps this up, then he’s even more valuable than Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen himself is a five tool player as well and as important to the Pittsburgh Pirates as the second slice of bread is to the first, but many of his numbers pale in comparison to Mike Trout’s this season. While they posted similar on-base percentages this year (.400 for McCutchen and .399 for Trout) and McCutchen just barely won in home runs, hits, and walks (31, 194, and 70 versus 30, 182, 67 respectively) Trout blew McCutchen out of the water in stolen bases and runs, stealing 49 bags in 54 attempts compared to McCutchen’s 20 steals, and scoring 22 more runs than McCutchen. Oh, and Trout had a higher slugging percentage than the Pirates’ star despite hitting leadoff. McCutchen was the explosive to his team’s offense this season, while Trout was the oil, setting up his entire team to succeed – while also posting power numbers comparable or better than McCutchen.
Trout needs time to prove that his brilliant play isn’t just a fluke, however. He’s done well straying clear from serious injuries or major lulls in production. But we all know the consequences of putting too much faith in players to be the next this guy and that guy. Numerous high draft picks have failed to perform deep into their careers once they reached the Bigs. And Mike Trout is the most exciting player in the entire game, so we wouldn’t want to see him fall after putting extreme faith in him and already deeming him to be the most valuable baseball player in the world. Let’s wait to see another two or three seasons. Let’s wait to see how consistent Trout is over more than 135 games in a season. Let’s wait to see how many more stolen bases, runs, and home runs Trout will add to box scores. If he can continue on this path, however, this Mickey Mantle-like path of radiance, then there’s no doubt what Mike Trout will be.
Keep the fish fountain safe and pretty for now; we’re waiting to see if it sets in.